Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 20, 1972 · Page 124
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August 20, 1972

Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 124

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Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 20, 1972
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Page 124
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Page 124 article text (OCR)

I I Shaded area ;'.s Umhria where Americans /i.ive begun lo buy up old houses. vast fields of waving grain, sleepy towns, farmlands. It is hot in summer, but there is always a breeze. Winters are cold, but snowfall is light. Ski resorts occupy the mountains. Still rural, Umbria guards its traditions. Saints' clays are still celebrated with processions, and grape harvest is the time for a testa. Todi, which is only an hour and a half from Rome has been this year's "in" place for American buyers. The town of Todi boasts a magnificent central piazza surrounded by Renaissance and Gothic buildings, a picture gallery, and an 11th-century cathedral. Houses here, on both sides of the valley, cost from $3000 up. In eight months, Americans, Italians, and Irish bought six peasants' houses belonging to one owner alone. Ceremonial deals Buying a house requires research and patience. You can start with the help of an agent, but an alternative is to stop a local farmer and ask if there is anything for sale in the area. After you have been invited lo his house, drunk a bit of his wine, listened to the story of his life, and answered some very personal questions, he may then tell you about property for sale. Then comes a bargaining session which often borders on high comedy.. One buyer tells of his closing: "They had asked $13,000 which was nuts. We offered them $2000 which was even crazier. This was all done over a dining room table, the inevitable jug of wine, and downcast eyes. Our agent told the seller that $13,000 was exaggerated because the house was a ruin and the land wasn't worth anything. The seller countered by saying that the land had 20 olive trees. 'But the trees are small and don't bear,' said the agent. 'But they'll grow/ said the seller. After much wine and much bargaining, the price was settled at $3600." Unless you have grandiose ideas, local laborers, under the direction of a chief mason, can handle the reconstruction. Prices are still low. The masons are real artisans, and they can often find old bricks, stones, and tiles to preserve the architectural character of the house. Todi's foreign crop this year has been swelled by a titled Irishman, an American diplomat, a novelist, and sculptor lack Zajac who bought two houses, one for his family and one for his studio. View of river Still closer to Rome, straddling the La/io-Umbria line, is the sleepy '.own of One. There on a 200-acre hill with a breathtaking view over the winding Tiber, Ni/ar and Ellen Jawdat, both Harvard-trained architects, have started a kind of community. Two years ago, they bought the hill and reconstructed a big farmhouse for their family. Their house, as gracious as a glorious country villa, was rebuilt under their direction by local labor. Nizar Jawdat has cut the roads through the hill, plowed land with his own tractor, built walls and found springs. The hill at Orte will eventually have about 25 houses, each set on a lot of at least three acres. So far, there are six houses belonging to a professor, an American architect, an American retired Army officer, two Iraqi, and a Lebanese. The feeling at "Project Orte" is live- and-lel-live. A communal swimming pool and tennis court draw gatherings. At the northern end of Umbria, foreigners drawn to the glories of Perugia have settled in and around nearby Umbertide. Perugia is one of Italy's jewels, a city carved in stone high on a hill. Its churches are glorious, its museum of Umbrian painting renowned, and its restaurants first class. During the summer, the city swells with 14,000 foreign students who come to study Italian language, history and art at the university. Americans take over One pocket of Americans has taken over much of the village (six houses) of Polgeto, near Umbertide. What has happened there is a story which can be repeated all over Umbria. One daring soul sees in a decaying $4000 stone peasant's house Mr. Blanding's dream house. He is ready to put up with the complications of dickering on price, clearing title, digging a well, and putting in water, light, and heat. In Polgeto and Umbertide the first buyer was a New York interior designer. He bought a small castle and then several other houses. Friends came to see and were bitten by his "madness." Pamela Bookman, a New Yorker, who was on the staff of Look magazine, bought a house. It is a rather grand affair, having served long ago as a rest This is the interior of the lames McCarrells' house in Polgeto, which was once used as a stone pigsty. Contemporary and antique furnishings mix. Nizar and Ellen lawdat have tea in the garden of their converted farmhouse at One. They enjoy a breathtaking view of the Tiber River nearby. house for friars. Pain has built a sunken bathtub ink) her bedroom floor, an American-style kitchen into an alcove off the living room, and plant boxes in the guesl bath. The house was reconstructed by local labor. Pam lives in Polgeto and loves it so much that it has become her year-round rather than her second home. For her, being alone and female in Umbria is no problem. "It's divine," says Pam. "Where else in the world could I go truffle hunting with my egg man one day and horseback riding with the policeman the next^" Across the road from Pamela, in what used to be literally a pigsty, live the James McGarrells. Jim is a painter from Indiana. His diminutive wife and teenage son learned their Italian at the university in Perugia and are now very much part of the community. The boy goes to a local school, and Mrs. McGarrell thrives on the bucolic life. Their house has double-height ceilings, exposed stone walls, and a walled garden. Jim is currently adding a studio to the property. Prices in this area start at $2500 and go up, depending on the size of the house, what condition it is in, and the amount of land available. Most people buya house with a hectare of land (about 2'/2 acres). Although Polgeto is a good three-hour drive from Rome, plans are in the making to extend a nearby superhighway. It doesn't take much daring or much money to buy a house in Umbria. It does, however, take imagination to see beyond the decay to the home you've dreamed of. The rewards in being a landowner in Umbria, however, go beyond the house. You'll find good neighbors, organically grown food, memorable wine, breathtaking vistas. and a culture that is proud of its age. 15

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